Romero House: 20 years of shaping students for a life of service
By Julie Filby
Photo by Julie Filby/DCR
Situated on the north side of the Regis University campus in northwest Denver, a small brick house at the end of Julian Street looks just like many other college kids’ houses: several cars with varying state license plates are parked out front, a bike is leaned up against the porch, and students come and go with backpacks casually slung over their shoulders.
From the outside, only a simple wooden sign with red letters above the front porch distinguishes it: “Romero House.”
Inside, a few other things differentiate it: there are no TVs, the weekly grocery budget for six students is limited to $70, and the 20-somethings that live there regularly challenge each other by giving up certain “comforts”—one week it was their beds, another time it was hot water, and last week it was mirrors.
The Romero House is a Regis University student residence founded in 1992 by Jesuit Father Vince O’Flaherty. Inspired by Jesuits working with the poor in Central America, students at Romero House live in community while serving the poor, exploring social justice issues, reflecting on spirituality, and sharing household responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and shopping.
The Denver Catholic Register visited the Romero House at 5201 Julian St. Nov. 15 to meet with residents and university ministers. Images of its namesake, Archbishop Oscar Romero—murdered in 1980 for his work with the poor in El Salvador—are on display throughout the simple five-bedroom house that’s home to three women and three men.
“The Romero House gives students a chance to learn from the teachings of Oscar Romero,” explained Quinn Waller, house coordinator and associate university minister. “Participants have opened themselves up to relationships with the poor and marginalized, to explore the root causes of injustice, to being inspired by the lives of the Salvadoran martyrs, and to the faith that does justice.
“They learn Gospel values … and discern the vocation of loving and serving others.”
Each student dedicates six to eight hours per week at a service site of their choosing. This year’s sites include Head Start childcare services, Heart in Hand after-school program, La Casa Quigg Newton Family Health Center, Mount St. Vincent Home, Arrupe Jesuit High School and Skinner Middle School.
“Students are placed based on a combination of their talents, what they’re interested in, and what the community needs,” said Waller. “(The experience) shapes who they become,” regardless of their future profession.
Patrick Serrano, 21, is residing at the house for his senior year. Previously he lived in Denver with his parents, immigrants from El Salvador. Because he is bilingual and majoring in chemistry and math, working at La Casa Quigg Newton was a natural fit. There he assists in the pharmacy, helps educate visitors on health-related issues and translates for Spanish-speaking clients.
He also uses his bilingualism to help “Maria,” a member of the cleaning staff at Regis and immigrant from El Salvador, improve her English.
A project of Regis University
Archbishop Oscar Romero
1917: Born Aug. 15 in El Salvador
“Three times a week we meet and just talk in English for an hour,” he said. “We talk, we laugh; it’s really fun.”
Students receive three credit hours in religious studies by participating in “Topics in Spirituality: Engagement in the World.” The course entails required reading and bi-weekly discussions led by Paul “Pablo” Burson, M. Div., director of Student Development and Community Partnerships. Following a community meal at the house,
Burson primarily uses the time to help prepare the students for an annual pilgrimage to El Salvador. This year’s pilgrimage is Dec. 31 to Jan. 14.
Romero House residents also host hospitality nights on Mondays for the wider university community, and once a year each resident coordinates a spirituality night.
In its 20 years, Waller estimates 150-180 students have participated in the program, which also offers an intensive summer session. Some 50 alumni, including several of the original residents, gathered in Denver Nov. 8-11 to celebrate the program’s 20th anniversary.
“(Romero House) establishes a lasting legacy of people who continue to serve,” she said. “Whether they become priests, pediatricians or lawyers, their profession is rooted in service.”
In 2009, the Romero House was one of only six ministries nationwide recognized with the Exemplary Program Award, Educating for Justice, from the Catholic Campus Ministry Association. For more information, contact the Office of University Ministry at 303-458-4153.